Ecuador Grants WikiLeaks Founder Political Asylum, But Britain Refuses Safe Passage

Britain's foreign secretary says he won't allow Assange safe passage

By Debra Pangestu and Daniel Macht
|  Thursday, Aug 16, 2012  |  Updated 11:05 AM PDT
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U.K. Refuses WikiLeaks Founder Safe Passage

AP

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange show their support outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London.

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Ecuador granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum on Thursday, but a standoff was continuing at Ecuador's embassy in London after Britain refused him safe passage out of the country.

"The United Kingdom does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum," Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

In approving Assange's request for asylum hours earlier, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said that there was a real risk he faced political persecution in the United States and would not receive a fair trial.

"It is not impossible that he would be treated in a cruel manner, condemned to life in prison, or even the death penalty," Patino told reporters in Ecuador's capital, Quito, according to The Associated Press. "Ecuador is convinced that his procedural rights have been violated."

Patino also lashed out at what he said was a U.K. threat to raid its embassy if the WikiLeaks founder was not handed over to authorities.

Britain's Foreign Office said Thursday it was "disappointed" by Ecuador's decision but would still carry out a "binding obligation" to extradite Assange to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over claims he sexually assaulted two women. British authorities have said they would arrest Assange if he should leave the embassy where he has been holed up for nearly two months.

Assange, meanwhile, said he was "grateful to the Ecuadorian people, President Rafael Correa and his government," Sky News reported.

"It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation," Assange said. "While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented US investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped."

NBC News reported that a crowd of about 15 protesters had gathered outside the embassy earlier Thursday after Ecuador's foreign minister had claimed Britain might enter the building to detain Assange. About 20 police officers were stationed outside the embassy trying to tame the crowd of supporters, and according to a Reuters reporter, at least three protesters were dragged away by police.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London on June 19, citing a fear that he could be handed over to the United States and be subject to the death penalty. The former Australian computer hacker incensed Washington by publishing thousands of secret diplomatic cables in 2010. 

Sweden called Ecuador's asylum decision "unacceptable" and summoned its ambassador.

Ecuador's President Correa has said Assange could face the death penalty in the U.S., and insisted on his right to protect what he deems a free speech advocate facing political persecution.

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